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Digital Mammography

Mammography (also known as a mammogram procedure) is the examination of a breast using low dose X-rays. Most medical experts agree that successful treatment of breast cancer is often linked to early diagnosis, and mammography is considered the most effective tool for early breast tumor detection. It plays a central role in the early detection of breast cancer, as it can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. 

Selma Carlson uses full-field digital mammography. Digital mammography uses detectors that convert X-rays into electrical signals. These electrical signals produce images of the breast that can be seen on a computer screen. The radiologist is able to change the magnification, orientation, brightness, and contrast of these images. Computer-aided detection, or CAD, uses a digitized mammographic image to search for abnormal areas of density, mass, or calcification that may indicate the presence of cancer. The CAD system highlights these areas on the images, alerting radiologists to the need for further analysis.

What are the advantages of digital mammography and computer-aided detection?

  • Digital mammography eliminates the darkroom process for films, thus decreasing exam times.
  • These processes offer superior contrast resolution and improved ability to manipulate images, making it possible to detect breast cancers more accurately.
  • Computer-aided detection, or CAD, obtains a second, computerized reading, with the goal of finding more cancers or more accurately gauging signs of malignancy.
  • Digital mammography improves image access, transmission, retrieval, and storage.
  • This process requires a lower radiation dose than conventional mammography.

How often should I have a mammogram?

Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommend a mammography screening every year for women, beginning at age 40. 

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends that women who have had breast cancer and those who are at increased risk due to a genetic history of breast cancer should seek expert medical advice about frequency of screening and whether they should begin screening before age 40. 

When should I schedule my mammogram?

Before scheduling a mammogram, you should discuss problems with your breasts with your doctor. In addition, inform your doctor of hormone use, any prior surgeries, and your family or personal history of breast cancer. Generally, the best time to schedule your exam is one week following your period. Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your period if your breasts are usually tender during this time. Always inform your mammography technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.

What should I expect during this exam?

A licensed mammography technologist will perform your exam. Your breast will be placed on a special platform on the mammography unit and compressed with a clear plastic paddle. The technologist will gradually compress your breast. Breast compression is necessary in order to:

  • Even out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized.
  • Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities will not be obscured.
  • Allow use of a lower X-ray dose.
  • Hold the breast still to eliminate blurring of the image caused by motion.
  • Reduce X-ray scatter to increase picture sharpness.

You will be positioned for two projections of each breast. Standard views are top to bottom and an oblique, or side view.

What will I experience during this exam?

The exam takes about fifteen minutes to half an hour, depending on the number of images needed. You will feel pressure on the breast as it is squeezed by the compression paddle. Some women with sensitive breasts may experience some minor discomfort. Be sure to inform the technologist if pain occurs as compression is increased. If discomfort is significant, less compression will be used